Is there some rule that towers in fiction must be considered evil? I’m just curious, as a week or so ago, I finished reading Caught in Crystal, by Patricia Wrede, and the main characters journeyed to the Twisted Tower, which was definitely a malevolent place. Then, in The Two Towers, whether you take Tolkien’s interpretation (the towers are Minas Morgul and Orthanc) or Peter Jackson’s (Barad-dur and Orthanc), these places were eventually steeped in evil. I’ll have to keep a lookout for future books with more towers.
And then there’s The Silent Tower, by Barbara Hambly. My expectations over this book were mixed. I was asked to read it, but was perfectly happy to do so. It was written by Hambly, and the only other books I’ve read by her were Star Wars books. Nothing wrong with that, but I’ll admit that I read more fantasy than sci-fi, aside from Star Wars. So, knowing that it would somehow combine a fantasy world with sci-fi, had me a teeny bit worried that it would be like reading a Piers Anthony book. I’m not saying that would be bad, but though I like the Xanth books, Anthony’s style can be a little too flippant (or even crude) for me.
I. Loved. This. Book. And not only that, it took me on so many mental rabbit trails (I’m sorry, I’m always trying to figure out where the story’s going), trying to keep up with the story, becoming so involved with the characters, that I’m having trouble deciding where to start, and what to tell you. Knowing that this book has at least two sequels (not sure if it’s a trilogy or if there are more), was the only thing that made it tolerable that the book ended. Otherwise, I’d be griping about being left hanging. Instead of griping, I will do my best to start at the beginning, and take you on some of my journey.
The story begins with a conversation between a fat, little wizard, who’s working in his garden, and Caris, the tall, young sasennan. The sasenna are considered human weapons, trained to guard and defend and never question their Order (or their orders). The description of the wizard Thirle immediately brought to mind the fat dormouse cook in Brian Jacques’ Redwall and Mattimeo, and I couldn’t get the image to leave. So friendly and welcoming, that when Caris asks him, “Can you lose your magic?”, both Caris and I are shocked at Thirle’s violent reaction to the question.
From there, we find out more about the Way of the Sasenna, and Caris’ wish to ask again about whether you can lose your magic. This is interrupted by gunshots in the courtyard, and a murder. There, we meet the Archmage Salteris, Caris’ grandfather, who leads the wizards of the realm. With the mystery of the who committed the murder, the final words on the victim’s lips, the obsessive interest of the mad Prince Regent, and the danger from the anti-magic Church, the Archmage and Caris travel to the Silent Tower. Only one person can answer their questions, and he has been in prison for seven years, unable to perform magic. Antryg Windrose, former student to the Darkmage Suraklin (who was defeated many years before).
Expecting to find a very powerful, but possibly mad, wizard in the Silent Tower, Caris is surprised to find that Antryg is spry, tall, gawky, with beaky features, and flyaway gypsy-style clothing. Hambly’s description of Antryg made me picture someone a bit like the Disney animated version of Ichabod Crane. But despite his haphazard state of dress, and persistence in annoying the Bishop, I immediately found Antryg Windrose, criminal or not, to be absolutely delightful.
The second chapter of the book had me thinking that something had gone wrong with my Kindle book, because it started off with computer gibberish. Then I remembered that a computer programmer from our world came into the story somewhere. And so, we meet Joanna, a programmer from San Francisco, who likes to work late, and has very little life outside of her work. Well, excepting her jerk of a boyfriend, who doesn’t know the first thing about how to treat a lady. After working until the early hours of the morning, Joanna hears someone creeping around outside her office, and ends up being knocked out. She continues to be paranoid about being alone and working late, for some time after, but with good reason. Why is someone stalking her, and what do they want?
And then the two worlds collide, so to speak. Salteris goes to speak with Antryg, alone, and Caris sense something is amiss. He runs to the rescue, and dives into the Void, looking for his grandfather. I guess I forgot to mention that something from the Void between our worlds was involved, here? Only Antryg, Salteris, and Suraklin had ever been into the Void, or knew how to get through it. And somehow, this was connected to the murder, the entrance of abominations into Caris’ world, and sapping of life and magic from all people in both worlds.
Caris can’t find his grandfather, but he does find Antryg, so he follows him to where he crosses paths with Joanna. Joanna originally sees Antryg in his foreign robes, and believes he is her stalker, and fears him. She finds herself kidnapped, and dragged into another world, though it takes her quite a while to believe that she’s in another world, and not just a place where people are playacting.
With the disappearance of the prisoner Antryg and Salteris, the Church calls for help from the Regent, and denounces all magic-doers. Caris, Joanna, and Antryg rightly see their danger of being caught in an Inquisition, rather than able to help the missing Salteris. So, the three travel to Kymil, and eventually Angelshand, where Caris hopes to have Antryg see trial, and Antryg hopes to speak to the Council of Wizards. Joanna only knows that she must stay with them, if she ever wants to return home.
The interaction between the three is quite fascinating. Joanna is extremely wary of men, especially young, handsome ones, so she’s very cautious around Caris. Caris, being a sasenna, is not very forthcoming with his thoughts, and he doesn’t trust Antryg even slightly. So, Antryg is the one that shows constant kindness and concern for the young woman who has been caught in a foreign world. His genius mind has almost no trouble keeping up with Joanna’s explanation of computers, and her understanding of subroutines in computer programs finds a matching chord with how magic works.
My favorite interaction between the two, right from the start, involves Joanna’s jerk of a boyfriend. When they’re still in our world, Gary announces before company that he’s the only one that would ever see anything in her, or consider dating Joanna. She rightly sees herself as unwanted by anyone, but that Gary would say such things, even as a joke, is crushing. Later, Joanna tells Antryg (who was there for the incident) that she “supposes he thought it was funny”. Antryg wisely and kindly says that “Yes, I suppose he does. And that is the worst that can be said of him.”
I think you’ll have to read the book yourself, in order to find out more about the interactions between these three, and where the story takes them. I found many unexpected twists and turns in the story, but maybe you would find them obvious. The abominations that come from the Void and attempt to devour living things, these are quite terrifying, but I thought it was fascinating how Joanna’s knowledge of subroutines in computers helped her to break down the components of what the creatures were after.
Also, there are several characters that you won’t expect to like, but by the time our main three leave them, you find that you like them, after all. You can have pity for the mad Prince Regent, who went mad at the age of ten, but he thought it was hereditary because his father had gone mad. You feel that the Regent has some kindness in him, and love for his father, because of what good care they take of the mad King.
Have you ever read a book where you absolutely loved a character, and then you found that they weren’t what you expected? Or perhaps they died, but you weren’t willing to believe it? For example, when I read the Harry Potter books, I loved Dumbledore. So, when Snape deals with him, I was crushed, and unwilling to believe it. I don’t think Harry was willing to believe it, either. But I was so convinced it couldn’t really have happened, that there must be another explanation, that I read to the end of the series, almost, before I was finally convinced. My solution to the tale was that Dumbledore was actually a phoenix Animagus, so he hadn’t really died, and perhaps he was even Fawkes. But I think there was a phoenix (or the vision of one) that arose from his tomb, at his funeral. So, I kept hoping that he would come along, hope against hope, but it never happened.
So, sometimes I’m stupid like that, holding on to the last fading hope, unwilling to believe what’s right before my eyes. And it’s true of this book, though I won’t tell you what resulted from it, this time around. I came to love the characters, one especially, and as the end of the book approached, I found that they weren’t what they said they were. Someone else in the book felt the betrayal, straight to the core, and I felt it, too. And yet, to the end, I clung to the hope that this person couldn’t really be a traitor… could they? That character had captured my heart… for crying out loud, if they were real, I’d marry them. I wasn’t going to believe the betrayal, no matter how the book ended.
I’ll just leave you there, wondering whether this was another “Dumbledore scenario” for me, or not. You’ll have to read the book yourself, and find out. If you like a little fantasy, with some sci-fi thrown in, you won’t be disappointed. I wasn’t. And now, I’m going to go find a copy of The Silicon Mage (Book 2 of the Windrose Chronicles).